Las Vegas Sun

January 30, 2015

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Picking up the tab

Defense Department allows outsiders to pay for trips that should be covered by taxpayers

With such a massive budget the Defense Department would seem to have enough money to pay for its own fact-finding missions or trips to conferences and other activities where military representation is warranted.

That is why it was distressing to learn Wednesday that corporations, professional associations and other sources outside the federal government spent at least $26 million on more than 22,000 trips for department personnel from 1998 through 2007. Included were at least 328 trips to various events in Las Vegas.

The research was performed by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in Washington, which promotes investigative journalism, and by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Illinois.

It is unfathomable to think the Pentagon would permit its own contractors or foreign governments to pick up the tab to fly department personnel — and in many cases their spouses — around the globe. But the numerous examples unearthed in the report show that the problem is way out of hand and should be addressed by the Pentagon immediately.

A database that is part of the study showed that trips to Las Vegas, typically in the $500 to $1,500 range, were paid for by several major corporations, including IBM, General Dynamics, 3M, Sony, National Broadcasting Co., Schering-Plough, and Johnson & Johnson. A large percentage of the trips, paid for by drug companies and medical associations, were for military health care professionals. But some had a sports connection, with sponsors including the National Basketball Association, U.S. Olympic Committee and Mountain West Conference, whose members include the Air Force Academy.

While Pentagon officials told The Washington Post that the travel was legal and conformed with existing regulations, the potential for conflicts of interest and influence peddling is obvious.

This is especially true among Pentagon contractors or companies that wish to do business with the Defense Department in the future. Nothing beats a paid trip to cement a friendly relationship between the sponsor and the recipient.

The Pentagon should do the right thing and spend its own money on travel.

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